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Minneapolis Family Hopes For Justice Despite Losing Business To George Floyd Protests

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

So we've been hearing how the nation is pulsing with anger with demands for racial justice. Some of that anger has translated into literal fire. And for some small business owners, that means their establishment is a casualty of the unrest. NPR's Leila Fadel followed one Minneapolis family and sent this story.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: On the south side of Minneapolis, Sophia Moniet (ph) and her family walk up to the door of what was Mama Sophia's Kitchen. A volunteer from the neighborhood walks out.

Is this your business?

SOPHIA MONIET: Yeah.

FADEL: Sorry. So, so very sorry.

It's the first time they've seen the restaurant after days of fiery protests. Inside, the walls are charred black, the kitchen reduced to rubble. Glass and water are swimming in puddles as community members work to sweep away the destruction. Sophia looks around, stunned. Her daughter, Sayda (ph), is with her.

MONIET: We're looking at a very burned restaurant - like, completely. I don't know how we're going to recover this.

FADEL: Her mother, a Somali immigrant, opened the restaurant two years ago with her retirement savings. In the midst of the health pandemic, she closed the restaurant and she had to choose between paying for insurance and paying staff, so Sophia chose her staff. That means there are no funds to rebuild. This weekend her mother had planned to reopen her restaurant as the city started easing stay at home orders. She spent over $4,000 dollars on preparation.

MONIET: Well, look now - not only me, all Minneapolis.

FADEL: She says it's not only her. It's the whole street. The city around her - community members are sweeping, boarding up buildings and helping each other. Almost every business on this block is damaged. She speaks Somali, as her daughter interprets.

SAYDA MONIET: She said everything that has happened and every - even though I know that I'm not going to be able to come back this - from this economically, but what has happened to George's life is not - cannot be exchanged for all of this. I hope that he gets justice.

FADEL: The freezer, the oven, the tables - they can be replaced. But George Floyd's life, she says, that cannot be replaced. Floyd's the African-American man who died after a white police officer pinned his neck to the ground with his knee. That now fired officer, Derek Chuavin, has been arrested and charged. Floyd's death has prompted mass protests that have erupted across the country in a call for racial justice. In the rubble, Sayda finds the signs she made for her mother when the restaurant first opened.

SAYDA MONIET: It says Mama Sophia's Kitchen, seasoned with love because she always cooks with love.

FADEL: Sayda digs out a few more knickknacks.

SAYDA MONIET: And most of the artifacts here - I got it from Africa. This one is from Somalia.

FADEL: She puts them into a tiny pile of what is salvageable. Outside is a tower of all that is lost. Her sister Bebe Abdullah (ph) walks in to help. She looks around.

BEBE ABDULLAH: But the truth is things like this happen when people feel powerless. And something has to change.

FADEL: Bebe says she hopes the protests translate into motivated voters because that, to her, is real power.

SAYDA MONIET: Excuse us. Coming through. Coming through. Coming through.

FADEL: She and her sisters start to clear the big debris together.

SAYDA MONIET: Come here.

FADEL: Then Sayda leads her mother, Sophia, to the kitchen in the back so they can assess the damage. It's a tunnel of black walls and burned debris.

SAYDA MONIET: I am sorry.

FADEL: She gets upset and pulls away.

SAYDA MONIET: I just want - she's just saying, why are you bringing me in here? I don't want to see this.

FADEL: Sayda stands in the kitchen alone for a moment, staring into that black tunnel and then joins her family outside, where people are coming together to clear the rubble. With everything unfolding, the pandemic has slipped many people's minds.

SAYDA MONIET: I forgot. Have you seen me shake hands with people? Like - 2020, we hear you. We see you. We went from one crisis to the next to the next. What's next?

FADEL: Sayda says now she spends her nights both protesting but also trying to protect other people's stores and restaurants from destruction.

SAYDA MONIET: I'm, like, emotionally torn, like, here and there. I don't think this is right, but at the same time, people are crying for help. People are saying, fix this, you know?

FADEL: Overnight, there were more clashes, more cries for justice as protesters demanded that all four of the fired officers involved in the death of George Floyd be prosecuted. Floyd is a symbol of the many deaths of black people in police custody. Sayda says she hopes all of this loss is not in vain - that this pain will lead to change. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Minneapolis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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